WASHINGTON — When U.S. presidents and their diplomats meet some Arab leaders, they come away with more than an earful about foreign policy. They also get exquisite baubles, objects of gold, robes, art -- even a papier mache Santa Claus.
A new list of gifts bestowed by foreign leaders on U.S. officials shows particularly lavish treats from the Arab world. One eye-popper: a diamond ring, locket and musical instrument worth more than $212,000 from Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, longtime U.S. nemesis, to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
He gave the gifts a personal touch, including likenesses of him.
Alas, it's only the thought that counts.
Rules forbid U.S. officials from keeping most gifts given by foreign representatives. They have to turn them over to the government. Most gifts given to a president quickly end up in a warehouse, only a sampling of them to emerge years later in a presidential library.
Superb bicycles given to former President George W. Bush last year went to federal storage, according to the State Department list released Thursday. Gift perfume never graced a VIP's wrist. Wine and cigars, after being courteously received, almost certainly were never consumed.
The list covers gifts given Bush and his officials, along with some from earlier years of his administration that were reported later.
President Barack Obama is on the list, as a senator. During Obama's July 2008 visit to Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai gave him a $60 Jesus statue as well as two rugs, a vase and a silver palm tree figurine valued at $200 each. Following protocol, Obama turned the gifts over to the State Department.
The Saudi medal of honor Obama received in his presidential visit to the kingdom this month is likely to end up in archival storage, just as did one given Bush. The new State Department report shows Bush's medal and a silver and gold replica of the Saudi palace -- together worth $32,000 -- in the federal inventory.
The globe-trotting Rice was showered with sparkling gems and exotic scents: Lalique Crystal perfume from the French, Guerlain perfume from the Armenians.
In the Arab world, hospitality and generosity are greatly valued, and even poor people will press gifts or admired personal belongings on guests. The richer the person, the greater the hospitality and giving.